The Skywriter

A House built on (climate) denial


A House built on (climate) denial


It seems that everyone is talking about where the movement for climate change legislation goes now that the Republicans have picked up 60 seats in the House and a handful in the Senate. Slate, in collaboration with The Climate Desk, has asked experts -- from David Roberts (whose post is excellent) to Nordhaus and Shellenberger -- to assess the situation and where opportunities exist to pass climate legislation.

First, an important note David Roberts makes in his post:

Conservatives have successfully demonized cap-and-trade, rendering it politically toxic for at least the next several years. In response, the new vogue in energy circles is to campaign for massive public investment in clean tech R&D. And who could oppose that? It sounds reasonable and bipartisan. Then again, so did cap-and-trade in the 1990s, when centrist environmentalists and Republicans developed it as a market-based alternative to command-and-control regulations. Will public investment meet the same sorry fate?

I'd like to hook on his last statement for a moment and remind everyone that cap and trade is a Republican idea that the party (with a handful of courageous exceptions) now refuses to support. In fact, it's an extremely successful idea originally posed by Republicans in response to traditional command-and-control methods of cutting harmful emissions. The primary example of its use, as part of the Acid Rain Program in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, effectively reduced the pollutants from coal power plants that produce acid rain while generating overwhelmingly positive net economic impacts.

So it's incredibly interesting and frustrating to me that now that the Republicans have taken over the House of Representatives once again, the commentary all over the Internet seems to be that cap and trade is dead. I understand the realities of the situation, and expecting a party that has fought tooth and nail against everything that could be perceived as moderately progressive or a Democratic win to vote for a carbon cap seems far-fetched. Republicans claim that they can't support it because capping carbon has much more far-reaching impacts than capping acid rain pollutants. To be fair, carbon is even more engrained in our economy than these other pollutants, but this claim ignores that every credible study on capping carbon shows net long-term benefits.

So, really, what can we expect? Most commentary I've seen seems to push for smaller portions of regulation or for technological support and funding. Certainly, these components are important -- they were often parts of the larger climate bills -- but they don't take us all the way to where we need to be, and we need to acknowledge that. We should not give up on a carbon cap because it is now more difficult. We should continue to push for it, along with the components that a Republican House would look upon more favorably.

Yet, even energy research and development funding may be a big push. With the expansion of Republican power in this Congress, so also comes a serious expansion of climate change denial in the House. Let's look at the players:

  • Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is slated to lead the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has already stated his intention to hold hearings on the "Politicization of Science," in order to resurrect the non-scandal at the University of East Anglia (often called ClimateGate), and try to block the EPA from regulating CO2 as it is currently required to under the Clean Air Act.
  • John Shimkus (R-IL) who is a contender for the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, has stated that we should not be concerned with global warming because God promised Noah that the Earth would never again be destroyed by a flood. Salon blogger Andrew Leonard notes that "the thought that the Bible will be determining government energy policy is massively ulcer inducing."
  • Finally, according to ThinkProgress analysis, a full half of the incoming freshman GOP Congressional class choose to ignore the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change – that is, they're climate deniers. A whopping 86% are of the opinion that, regardless of the evidence, we should do nothing about the issue.

I, for one, am more than a little concerned. It seems like the new members are not merely satisfied with stagnating the process, but would like to push us backward with bogus hearings. Keep watching -- it's going to be an interesting two years.

Nick Santos is a former 1Sky policy fellow and now works with The Environmental Consumer in California. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.
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